Stardew Valley: The Board Game Review

Stardew Valley: The Board Game is a tabletop co-op game for 1 to 4 players designed by Eric Barone and Cole Medeiros, published by ConcernedApe. It was released in March 2021. MSRB is $55.

You probably don’t know this about me, but I’m actually a big fan of board games. Some of the first dates I ever had with my partner were at a board game shop where they allowed us to rent and try out board games for free once a week. Before the pandemic we often had board game nights with our friends, and we often used games as an avenue to meet new people. We even set goals for trying new games featured on Board Game Geek. My favorite games include Tokaido, Nuns of the Run, and Splendor.

Normally these two interests don’t overlap that much, but today is different. It’s a rare day that a board game releases that’s inspired by a video game both my partner and I like. My partner pre-ordered a copy as soon as they went up online, and we were fortunate enough to get one. While the game can be played up to 4 players, my review will be based on the 2-player experience.

Like the video game, Stardew Valley: The Board Game puts the players in Pelican Town, where they have to farm, forage, and make friends in order to restore the Community Center and fulfill their Grandfather’s Wishes. The players divide themselves into different roles and pick tools to help them accomplish different tasks. You will have to carefully plan with the other players to get enough done in a day. You are all on a turn-based timer to accomplish all of your goals before the end of the year, or else Joja Corporation takes over Pelican Town.

I think it would be hard to translate all of the nuances, mechanics, and feelings of a video game into a different form factor. Stardew Valley, especially, is a complicated game where the player balances multiple mechanics and manages their time carefully. There are end-game goals to accomplish, but the game is mostly open-ended and chill. In many ways Stardew Valley: The Board Game captures the video game experience, but in other ways it misses the point.

Pelican Town itself is a beautiful board to play on. In fact, all of the illustrations are charming. I loved looking through all of the villager cards, and even the tokens for the most basic resources have that carefully crafted look, like they came right from Etsy or a local art shop. They made a cheerful yet faithful interpretation of the game’s pixel art.

The gameplay mechanics themselves are just as complex as the video game, though in the board game’s case, it might be too complex. Each day begins with a new set of circumstances for the players to deal with. For example, crows might try to eat their crops, Joja might impose a new ordinance in town, or the players might acquire a new item. Once that happens the players plan where to go in Pelican Town. You can fish along one of the several bodies of water, you can mine, you can tend to crops and animals, you can donate to the museum, or you can make friends in the center of town. Along the way you can forage for different items and resources that can help you.

This means that there are dozens and dozens of articles for you to manage. Fish, ore, materials, geodes, artifacts, friends, money, friendship points, item upgrades, you need to track them all. As players already familiar with Stardew Valley, it wasn’t too hard to learn the mechanics, but anyone unfamiliar with the board game will be drinking from a farming-sim fire hose. Furthermore, it would’ve helped to include more than just one try for all of the tokens and cards. We had to come up with our own solutions for where we were going to put everything. If you want to play this game, you’re going to need a bigger table.

If you’ve ever played other co-op board games, they tend to be stressful situations where the game is actively pushing you back from reaching the end together. The first time we played, my partner and I chose the easy difficulty option and Stardew Valley: The Board Game felt like a relaxing romp, similar in feel to the video game. The second time we played, we chose the normal difficulty, and the game suddenly turned into a tense, hair-pulling crucible characteristic of most co-op board games. This game isn’t just for Stardew Valley fans, it’s for the fans that love min-maxing everything. If you find yourself going to the Wiki page and taking notes, then this board game is for you. If you play Stardew Valley because it’s a restful haven up after a hard day of work, then you might be disappointed.

Normally I don’t grade a video game in terms of replayability, but that feature is a bit more important for a board game. And while Stardew Valley: The Board Game has a lot of things to manage, it does mean that the players have options for trying out new strategies on subsequent playthroughs. After two sessions, I’m still thinking of alternate ways to win, which I take as a good sign.

Knowing Eric Barone, he will likely be unable to leave this board game alone. He will likely work on updated versions and expansions for years to come. If I wasn’t such a fan of the original game, I wouldn’t be excited for these unconfirmed expansions. Luckily, though, I’m a huge Stardew Valley fan, and I’m highly looking forward to them!

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